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The Cascade: The Great Falls Group Newsletter             Spring 2014  
In This Issue
Fracking Risks to Drinking Water
Transportation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Chesapeake Bay Report Card
NOVA Climate Action Coalition
Virginia Coalfields Expressway & New Power for the Old Dominion
Paper or Plastic?
Featured Spring Hike
WIN-WIIN-WIN: You, the Environment, and Sierra Club
Get Outdoors with the Sierra Club
Great Falls Group Executive Committee
Calendar of Events
Quick Links
Top1 Calendar

Upcoming Programs--Everyone Welcome!  


March 3:  NOVA Climate Action Coalition Happy Hour
                  7 to 9 pm, Herndon


March 4:  Cafe Scientifique: Incorporating Value of Nature
                  into Corporate Decisions
                  5:30 to 8:00 pm
, Arlington 


March 14:  Movie: The Age of Stupid
                    7:30 pm
, Oakton    


March 18-30:  22nd Environmental Film Festival,
                        Washington, DC


April:  Earth Day 2014 Activities, Washington DC
           metropolitan area 


"Fracking Risks to Drinking Water" Draws Crowd


Great Falls Group Program Highlights Fracking Risks to Northern Virginia Water


Dusty Horwitt, senior analyst at Earthworks, spoke to the Great Falls Group at the Oakton library on February 20 about the upcoming decision by the U.S. Forest Service on whether to allow industry to use horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil and gas from the George Washington National Forest (GWNF). GWNF sits on the Virginia-West Virginia border. Fracking in GWNF is of special concern to 4.5 million residents of the Washington metropolitan area because the Forest is home to the headwaters of the Potomac, the source of their drinking water. Most of us have seen photos or videos of homeowners lighting their drinking water. No one wants to experience that nightmare here in Northern Virginia.

Concern for Our Drinking Water


Describing the fracking process, which he called the new "F-word," Dusty demonstrated the many ways that toxins, including benzene, can pollute the multiple tributaries of the Potomac. Because the fracking process is exempt from federal environmental laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act, it is difficult to control or regulate. Concern for drinking water supplies prompted three area water providers, including Fairfax Water, to write letters to the Secretary of Agriculture opposing fracking in GWNF. In addition, local Congressional Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have written letters in opposition. Recognizing the importance of the issue to Northern Virginians, local candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives or their representatives attended the fracking presentation to learn more about the issue. This concern was reflected in the large number of people who came out to hear Dusty's presentation. 


What You Can Do 


To counter the heavy pressure from the oil and gas industry on the U.S. Forest Service to allow fracking, Dusty encouraged attendees to write to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service. Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope wrote a letter to the Secretary, which provides excellent coverage of the topic and the Secretary's address. You can find a copy of Delegate Hope's letter on the Great Falls Group website and use its talking points to write your own letter to the Secretary. Dusty also encouraged attendees to write their local officials. To learn more about the issue and the danger to our drinking water, read an overview in a recent Los Angeles Times article. Also, a video of Dusty's talk will soon be available on the Great Falls Group website


By Linda Burchfiel 


Transportation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Northern Virginia Transporation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


When it comes to transportation and land use projects, there's no lack of bad ideas--and the Sierra Club has been on the front lines in fighting some of the worst ones. But we've also supported good ideas and projects. With more money now available for transportation in Virginia, there are plenty of projects and proposed policies that run the gamut from good to bad and all the way to plain ugly.    

The Good  


In February Fairfax County approved the Reston Master Plan, which plans for a compact, walkable mix of homes, offices, hotels, and stores organized around the three new Silver Line stations in Reston and Herndon. At the same time, the county is funding pedestrian and bicycle improvements and studying a bikeshare program in the area. The plan will allow tens of thousands more residents and commuters to use transit, walk, and bicycle for daily activities--taking the equivalent number of cars off the road and reducing global warming pollution.  


Another positive development is the adoption of a relatively balanced transportation plan in Fairfax. In January, the county approved a list of priority transportation projects over the next six years. Forty-one percent of the $1.3 billion plan is for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects. The plan will fund many important improvements near existing and future transit stations.  


Third, Loudoun County recently denied a rezoning that would have added more than 500 new housing units to the Willowsford subdivision south of Braddock Road, an area that doesn't have the infrastructure to accommodate this growth. The Board of Supervisors seems to be recognizing that the costs of sprawling, auto-dependent development outweigh the benefits.


And finally, in a victory for common sense, the General Assembly repealed the tax on hybrid vehicles imposed by the 2013 transportation overhaul.


The Bad


State legislators introduced several bills in the 2014 General Assembly that would have imposed much narrower criteria for prioritizing and selecting transportation projects. Other bills proposed to weaken the autonomy of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and concentrate more power within the Virginia Department of Transportation. Fortunately, the worst bills have died on the vine.


The Ugly


For a quarter of a century, real estate development and road-building interests have pushed an Outer Beltway that would ensure continued sprawl across Northern Virginia and Maryland. During the past two years they had the active support of the McDonnell administration. A coalition of environmental and smart growth groups managed to prevent the Federal Highway Administration from signing off on the most critical segment of this sprawl highway, the Bi-County Parkway, during McDonnell's term.  


Now Governor McAuliffe and his transportation secretary will need to make their own decisions on the road--and so far, they've been sending mixed signals. New Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne has revived a study of a new Potomac River crossing, which would likely connect with an Outer Beltway and further sprawl.  


There will continue to be plenty of bad and ugly--but we are seeing more and more good. As officials in Northern Virginia increasingly understand the benefits of transit-oriented development, the shape of the region is changing in a good way. It is not always easy or popular to implement these changes. The Club will continue to work to support the good and fight the most backward-looking and damaging ideas.

By Douglas Stewart
Great Falls Group Transportation Chair


Chesapeake Bay Report Card   

The Chesapeake Bay Report Card

Kurt Rausch of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) gave a presentation to the Great Falls Group on January 28 at the Oakton library about the current condition of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as some background on the Bay as an ecosystem.


The Chesapeake Bay--one of the largest estuaries in North America and valued for its beauty, biological diversity, and economic resources--has been struggling for decades to survive its many stresses but now shows encouraging signs of improvement. The Bay "Report Card," a health index of 12 measurements developed by CBF, averaged 32 points in 2012 on a scale of 1 to 100, up from a low of 23 in the early 1980s.  


The scale of 100 is based on descriptions of thriving underwater plant and animal communities from Captain John Smith's expedition journals written in the early 1600s. The next centuries brought pollution from a variety of sources, including animal waste and fertilizer, runoff from urban and suburban development, wastewater treatment plants, and septic systems, and much of the seafood was threatened by overfishing.  


In 1967, CBF was formed with the goal of cleaning up the Bay, a 64,000 square mile watershed with a number of jurisdictions including Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia and a human population of 18 million.   


Bay Cleanup 


After a series of voluntary programs failed to clean up the Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency, working with the six states in the watershed, created the legally enforceable Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint in 2010. Both EPA and the states have committed to implement actions to achieve 60 percent of the needed pollution reductions by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.  


Report Card


Judging from the states' first milestone--the 2012 Report Card--the Blueprint seems to be working, but with a score of 32, the Bay still needs a lot of restoration. The Report Card measures three categories:     




Pollution measures nitrogen/phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, toxins, and sediment. With scores ranging from 16 to 28, pollution obviously remains a serious problem.  




The habitat category shows some improvement. Forested buffers increased to earn a rating of 58, and wetlands increased slightly to a score of 42. However, resource lands barely improved, earning 32 points, and underwater grasses actually decreased to a score of 20.  




Fisheries had two serious failures and two bright spots. The failures are the shad population, with a score of 9, and the oyster population, with a score of 6. Oysters are especially valuable in the Bay, not just as a food and economic resource, but also as a pollution filter. An oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a day, and back in John Smith's era, oysters were so plentiful that the population could filter the whole Bay every one and a half days. Restoring the oyster population has been a priority of CBF staff, who with the help of volunteers have planted more than 95.4 million juvenile oysters in the Bay. Rockfish and crab populations have been success stories, earning scores of 69 and 56, as populations rebounded because of fishing limits.  


While this Report Card shows only modest improvement in 2012, pollution-reduction practices have been put in place that move Bay cleanup about halfway to the 2025 goal. For more information, contact Kurt Rausch at, or see what action you can take on the CBF website. 


By Linda Burchfiel 


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NOVA Climate Action Coalition  


Jerry Stewart (right) with another attendee
NOVA Climate Action Coalition 


The NOVA Climate Action Coalition gathered for an informative happy hour on January 27, 2014. Groups represented were the Sierra Club Great Falls Group, Herndon Environmental Group, 350 Loudoun, and Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions.


Great March for Climate Action 


First on the program was Jerry Stewart, who talked about the upcoming Great March for Climate Action. The march will begin in Los Angeles on March 1, 2014, and end in Washington, DC, on November 1, 2014. Marchers can join the march at any point along the route.


Jerry Stewart shared some of his reasons for marching: (1) He's walking for social justice: those most harmed by climate change are young people, the poor, and the elderly. (2) He'll be carrying a "Divest Kenyon" banner, which refers to Kenyon College in Ohio. It encourages Kenyon to divest companies with a large carbon footprint. (3) Marchers will be showcasing renewable energy using a wind generator and solar panels. For more information on the march and to support Jerry, visit the Great March for Climate Action website


Clean Energy in Virginia 

Next, Emily Heffling of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) spoke about Virginia issues and the Virginia General Assembly, then in session. CCAN works to promote clean energy in Virginia. She mentioned that climate change was the number one topic of letters to the editor and op-ed pieces in the

Richmond Times Dispatch. Dominion, the major power company in the state, recently signed a federal lease agreement for nearly 113,000 offshore acres for wind power development; however, Dominion omitted any plans to develop large-scale offshore wind power in its most recent 15-year energy plan. Learn more on the CCAN webpage on Dominion's dirty power.   


Power Plant Emissions 


Madison Poche of Environment Virginia spoke about federal issues. She emphasized the need to cut carbon. Power plants are one of the biggest challenges; there's no limit on how much carbon they can emit. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to pass standards requiring state-of-the-art carbon capture equipment, but the Senate can block that action. Madison encouraged attendees to write a letter asking Virginia's senators to support requiring limits on power plant emissions. Learn more on the Environment Virginia website, and click on "Clean Air" under the picture.


Acting Locally  


Lastly, Jean Wright from the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions talked about local issues. Her group's aim is to make Northern Virginia a "leader rather than a lagger" on climate. She enumerated what her group is doing: (1) Calling for Fairfax County to reinvest pension funds into clean renewable energy and divest from fossil fuel companies. (2) Join together across faith organizations, nongovernment organizations, and businesses to make Fairfax County a leader in environmental issues and thereby influence Richmond, other states, and the federal government. (3) Petition the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to install an online dashboard to show energy efficiency of public buildings and reduction of energy use.


On March 14 at 7:30 pm, the Faith Alliance will be showing the movie The Age of Stupid at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, 2709 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton, VA, (703) 281-4230. See calendar below for details.
By Linda Brown 


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Appalachian Voices Address Virginia Issues


Virginia Coalfields Expressway: We Need an Impact Statement on the New Route


Hannah Wiegard, Virginia Campaign Coordinator of Appalachian Voices, talked to the Great Falls Group on February 3 about the proposed Coalfields Expressway planned for southwestern Virginia. Earlier plans for the expressway were abandoned for lack of funding. Now the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has entered into a public-private partnership with two coal companies, which have proposed an alternate route for the highway. The alternate route would take the highway through mountain coal deposits. Through the partnership, VDOT would acquire title to lands needed for rights-of-way and partially fund the design and construction. The coal companies would be able to blast away mountaintops to extract coal along the proposed route and clear the way for constructing the four-lane highway.

Coal Companies Benefit


The coal industry is blatantly trying to disguise mountaintop removal as a "highway project." The controversial Coalfields Expressway, a $2.4 billion road project across the coalfield counties of Virginia, is now awaiting approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). If approved, the project would actually give the coal companies taxpayer dollars, regulatory exemptions, and the power of eminent domain to blow up mountains and bury headwater streams along the route of the four-lane highway. And what's worse, the proper environmental assessment has not been done to analyze the inevitable impacts of this project.


FHWA has a responsibility to insure that all significant impacts of the road are studied, and all reasonable alternatives are considered. FHWA needs to hear from you that mountaintop removal makes a significant impact and this "road" needs a closer look.  


Please take a moment to let FHWA know that mountaintop removal and burying streams are significant impacts. Generate a comment through the Appalachian Voices website, or email Victor Mendez, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, at   


If you would like to write a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch, you can find talking points on the Citizens Concerns about the Coalfields Expressway website. 


New Power for the Old Dominion


Virginia is hooked on dirty fuels that destroy our mountains, pollute our air and water, sicken our citizens, worsen the impacts of climate change, and waste money for Virginia families. Virginia's electric utilities supply the vast majority of our power by burning coal, oil, and natural gas, and they plan to stick to the status quo for decades into the future.


Environmental groups are maintaining a drumbeat demanding that policymakers and utilities embrace reforms that will allow the clean energy market to grow in Virginia. They will be collecting petition signatures urging our leaders build a clean, renewable energy economy in Virginia by investing in clean energy like wind, solar, and efficiency to create jobs, grow our economy, and safeguard the health of our families. You can sign the petition by visiting the Wise Energy for Virginia website.   


Keep abreast of Virginia's energy issues via the Power for the People VA blog, written by Ivy Main, Chair of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.  


By Linda Brown


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Paper or Plastic?
Photo by Jim Dieter
Virginia Green Baggers Give Away Reusable Bags


By now, most of us prefer to bring reusable bags to the supermarket. To reduce plastic and paper use, Virginia Green Baggers (VGB) gives away their handmade, reusable bags. Since their inception in 2009, VGB has given away more than 900 shopping bags at events across Fairfax County. Bags are free to anyone who pledges to use them instead of paper or plastic.


VGB is the brainchild of Rebecca Selove, Helene Shore, and Julie Kimmel. Selove borrowed the concept and design from the original Green Bag Lady, Teresa VanHatten-Granath.


Like the Green Bag Lady project, VGB is a wholly volunteer-run organization. At monthly meetings and in their free time, members cut and sew the unique "folk art" bags. The bags are made from donated fabric scraps and repurposed materials such as sheets and curtains--resources that would otherwise end up in a landfill.


VCB gives away their bags at numerous local events, including First Friday in Falls Church, the Spring Festival and Holiday Open House at Reston's Walker Nature Center, farmers markets, movie screenings, book signings and lectures, and community meetings.


Their goal is to take as many plastic and paper bags out of circulation in our community as possible. Ultimately, they would like the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution banning single-use plastic bags in supermarkets and retail stores--and they have started a petition to this effect.


Disposable Bags are Bad News


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2011 Americans generated 700,000 tons of single-use plastic bag waste and 750,000 tons of paper bag waste--equivalent to billions of barrels of oil and millions of trees, respectively.


Less than 9 percent of that plastic bag waste was recycled. Plastic bags that aren't recycled either find their way into landfills (where they never degrade) or become litter. As litter, these bags contaminate soil and waterways and kill more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals every year. All this is not to mention the Great Pacific and North Atlantic Garbage Patches, oceanic areas where plastic debris has accumulated to the tune of six pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton.


Paper bags are no less a nightmare. Manufacturing a paper bag requires four times as much energy as manufacturing a plastic bag. And paper bag production generates 70 percent more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bag production.


Over its lifetime, each free VGB bag has the potential to decrease an individual's consumption of disposable bags by the hundreds.


Get a Bag and Lend a Hand


VGB's big spring 2014 bag giveaway will be at the Reston Spring Festival on May 3 at the Walker Nature Center.


VGB is always looking for fabric donations, venues for their next giveaway, and volunteers to help cut and sew. If you would like to help out or sign the plastic bag ban petition, please either e-mail VGB at or visit the VGB website.  


By Julie Kimmel


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Featured Spring Hike
Dyke Marsh

Now that Spring is on its way, it's a good time to get out for a hike. Why not try Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, Virginia? One of the area's largest freshwater tidal marshes, Dyke Marsh is home to almost 400 plant species and is popular with birders. Gather friends or family, pick a pretty spring day, and explore, enjoy, and protect the planet! Learn more about this trail on the website


WIN-WIN-WIN: You, the Environment, and Sierra Club

Reduce your carbon footprint and benefit the Sierra Club at the same time.

Sierra Club and Mosaic Power have rolled out a hot water heater optimization program. Does your electric water heater need to be smarter? A smarter water heater means reducing carbon emissions by as much as 1.5 tons per year for each water heater! Smarter water heaters also reward the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter with a donation.


For every Mosaic Power water heater meter installed, your local Sierra Club Virginia Chapter receives $50 toward its important work to protect the environment. You can also opt to have your $100 annual rebate donated directly to the Sierra Club.


And, the Optimization System is free!


All you need is an Internet connection router with an open port. Mosaic Power uses the Internet so your water heater can "talk" to the larger electric grid and make small adjustments to the power flow. These adjustments will not change your electric bills, nor do you need to worry about not having hot water available anytime you want it. Instead, the meter saves big on the "electric bill" of the larger electric grid. By demand-shifting, the grid operator doesn't have to fire up less-efficient, higher emissions generators as often--thus saving carbon emissions.


Learn more on the Virginia Sierra Club website



Get Outdoors with the Sierra Club


Sierra Club Potomac Region Outings (SCPRO) is a special activities group of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. It organizes hikes and events year-round for the general public on behalf of the Sierra Club's Washington, DC, Chapter and the Maryland and Virginia Chapters' Washington-suburb groups. Volunteer leaders conduct the events, many of which include conservation, educational, or historical elements. For information about SCPRO and its upcoming events, visit the SCPRO Events website. To obtain a free calendar subscription, inquire about becoming a SCPRO outings leader, or get answers to other questions, write to


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Great Falls Group Executive Committee


The monthly meeting of The Great Falls Group's (GFG) Executive Committee is usually held on the second Monday of the month, beginning at 7:30 pm, and is open to all Sierra Club members. Contact Norbert Pink for meeting times and location. If you would like to help the group, please volunteer by contacting one of the following leaders or Norbert Pink.



Chair                    Norbert Pink               703-264-7445

Treasurer             Joe Apple                   703-860-1254

Secretary             Patricia Leslie and Peg Hausman 


Committee Chairs:

Chapter Delegate  Joe Apple                   703-860-1254

Conservation         Steve Bruckner          703-883-3622

Membership           Norbert Pink               703-264-7445

Education               Volunteer wanted

Political                   Volunteer wanted        

Programs               Susan Weltz              703-242-2789 

Social                     Susan Bonney           703-821-5587

Transportation        Douglas Stewart        703-385-7564 


Committee Support:

Website & Listserv    Linda Stevens                              

E-newsletter               Linda Brown                              


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Monday, March 3, 7 to 9 pm
NOVA Climate Action Coalition Happy Hour

Red, Hot & Blue, 2403-B Centreville Rd., Herndon, VA (location change)

Cristina Lewandowski of the Herndon Environmental Network will discuss the effect of climate change on plant and insect ecology. Madison Poche of Environment Virginia and Emily Heffling of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network will explain how to write an effective letter to the editor. Complimentary appetizers; cash bar. Please join us as we band together to fight climate change. Everyone is welcome.


Sponsor: NOVA Climate Action Network (Host: Herndon Environmental Network)

Contact:  Susan Weltz at

Tuesday, March 4, 5:30 to 8:00 pm 
Cafe Scientifique: Incorporating Value of Nature into Corporate Decisions 
Atrium of the National Science Foundation Building & The Front Page restaurant, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington

According to the sponsor, the idea that nature delivers benefits to humans is an easy sell. Turning that idea into changes in business practices is not so simple. The Nature Conservancy and the Dow Chemical Company are reported to be mid-way through a six-year collaboration to explicitly bring data on the value of nature into business decisions, with the goal of improving decision-making and enhancing a company's long-term sustainability by highlighting the value of protecting ecosystems that provide critical services to the company and the public. Jennifer Molnar, the Conservancy's science lead for this effort, will describe the significant challenges in applying ecosystem service science and tools in the business context--and how results from pilots show that it can lead to opportunities that benefit both conservation and the corporate bottom line. Registration requested.

REGISTRATION:  Register online now. Cafe Scientifique is free and open to the public. Come early to order table service and socialize. Presentation begins at 6:15 PM, followed by Q&A. No science background required--only an interest!
SPONSORS: Ballston Science & Technology Alliance is sponsor of Cafe Scientifique Arlington.

Friday, March 14, 7:30 pm 
Movie: The Age of Stupid 
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, 2709 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton

The Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions movie is The Age of Stupid starring Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite as a man living in the devastated future world of 2055. While looking back at old footage from our time, he asks, "Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?" Becoming one of the most talked about films of 2009, the Los Angeles Times said: "Think An Inconvenient Truth, but with a personality. Consequently, the movie led to the formation of the 10:10 Carbon Reduction Campaign that now operates in 45 countries. Following the movie, Mike Casey, president and founder of Tigercomm, a leading U.S. cleantech PR film with offices in Arlington, VA, and San Francisco, CA, will speak on the topic Present Moment Activism.  

Tuesday, March 18 to 30
22nd Environmental Film Festival
Washington, DC, metropolitan area

The theme of the 2014 Festival, Our Cities, Our Planet, will examine the challenges posed by Earth's urban environments and the efforts of the world's cities to balance environmental and economic needs. For the full schedule, visit the Environmental Film Festival's webpage.

April 2014
Earth Day

Find Earth Day events in the Washington DC area on

The Cascade is published by the Great Falls Group of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Beginning 2012, it is being published electronically. We reserve the right to edit all submissions, both editorial and advertisements. The views expressed are those of the authors and may not be those of the Sierra Club. Email articles, photos, questions, or comments to


Visit the Great Falls Group website.  


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Linda Brown, Editor
Sierra Club Great Falls Group, Virginia